Let Them Eat Cake

Nutrition guides change as frequently as Irish weather.   Eggs are bad for you one month, then good for you the next.  Chocolate, coffee, and even assorted fruits and vegetables have been victims of this see-saw guidance.

A number of years ago, a mechanism was introduced to help people choose the right amount of food per category on a daily basis. The food pyramid continues to be revised in an effort to improve eating habits.  While it may provide a simplistic guideline, I can pretty well guarantee that a Sumo wrestler and a super model are not eating off the same pyramid.

So we start to get the message, eat more fruits and vegetables.  However, as soon as you start to feel comfortable on that bandwagon, the rules get fuzzy again.  You can’t eat just any vegetables; you need to limit the high carbohydrate varieties like corn, peas, and carrots. Of course some argue that corn is a grain not a vegetable and peas are a legume and belong on the protein side.   However, peas still appear in the veggie section of many versions of the current pyramid.  Corn is a grayer area, only appearing on some versions as a vegetable and not at all in others.

Fruit is another place where you can’t seem to win.  Fruit juice isn’t as good as the real thing, so limits or even avoidance are advised.  That’s all well and good; however, have you ever tried to swallow a vitamin or other solid medication with a slice of apple or orange versus their liquid equivalent.   Water may serve the same purpose for some people, but others find those pills, pardon the pun, ‘a little too hard to swallow’ with plain water.  What about children?  Now, giving little children juice is suddenly bad; as bad as a soft drink with too much sugar.

Looking for a healthy snack; something small, easy to carry around? How about a box of raisins?  As a bonus, it’s a fruit, so you can cross another serving off the list, right?  Not so fast.  Despite or maybe because of their compact nature, raisins are high in carbohydrates and sugar, natural sugar, but sugar none the less.

With the changeable nature of these guidelines, coupled with increasingly busy lifestyles, it’s no wonder people give up, throw their hands in the air and declare, ‘let them eat cake!’  Who knows, maybe cake will appear on the “good” list one day.  In the mean time, you may want to consider this guideline:  moderation, and a little common sense, goes a long way.

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One More Day

Few people these days can claim they have too much time on their hands. For most of us, there never seems to be enough hours in a day. We find ourselves bemoaning, ‘If I only had an extra hour…’ or ‘If I just had one day…’

Well, this year, and nearly every four years we do get an “extra day.” (If you are geeky enough to want the exact calculation, click here  and don’t even get me started about leap seconds.)

In ancient times, they actually added a day, today, February 24th, resulting in two days with the same date. It had to do with counting the days backwards from March 1st, or ante diem sextum Kalendas Martii (“the sixth day before the calends of March”). (Note: It’s also known as the bissextile day, but merely the looks of that world conjures up an entirely unrelated subject.)

March 1st, at one time, was the beginning of the year and also explains why February only has 28 days, normally. When certain Roman emperors wanted to add more days to their specific month they just grabbed them off the end of the year – i.e. February.

But why is it called Leap Year, when you aren’t leaping anything? More accurately, as they did above, you repeat a day or go backwards. In my overly logical, left brained, highly literal brain, the other years should be called Leap Years, as you leap over or do not observe February 29th (or the second February 24th, as it were), and this once every almost four year event should be called Non Leap Year. However, that term certainly does not have the same ring.

Just in case you’re interested, it’s called a leap year because it causes certain holidays or festivals to leap from their prescribed day relative to the previous year (e.g. if St. Patrick’s Day was on a Tuesday one year, then it would normally be on Wednesday the following year unless it’s a leap year where it leaps another day to Thursday).

One of the most well known traditions for Leap Day allows a woman to propose marriage to a man (not as unheard of in modern times as it once was). In some places, if the man refused, he was required to compensate the woman for the slight. Although it’s tempting to want to keep that particular condition around, in this modern day of politically correctness it would likely be set into some anti-discrimination law requiring it to work both ways; which would have further consequences such that no one would ever propose to anyone ever again for fear of having to pay some kind of recompense if the person refused.

February 29th should, however, be turned into an international holiday so that you could actually do all those things you don’t have time to do in a normal day, week, or year. Feel free to begin lobbying your local government for that particular benefit; however, refrain from holding your breath, waiting for it to come to fruition.

Anyway, there you are, here’s that extra day you’ve always wanted. Make the most of it (that is, unless you have to work, under which circumstances you might consider starting that referendum for an additional holiday).

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Air Travel 101 – Refreshments

Going well back in time to the 1960’s and 1970’s air travel was almost all first class.  According to my mother, people actually dressed up to get on the plane and were provided with menus from which to choose their fare and said meals were served with real silverware (not plastic).  By the time I started flying, coach class (or cattle car as I commonly refer to it) had been introduced, though on my first international flight, wine was still free.  Fast forward to the 21st century, and on many airlines, you can’t even get a glass of water without being charged, and free meals have all but disappeared except for international flights.

Does that cup of coffee, juice, or soda and that tiny bag of nuts or pretzels really cost that much?  It seriously can’t be more than $1-2 per person, unless they bring the cart around more than once.

Now that meals and snacks are buy-on-board, it would be interesting to know how much food they throw out because no one bought it. Based on some of the prices, especially on snack items, they are probably covering some of the spoiled regular food costs.

Even when snacks and beverages were provided, people were not prohibited from bringing their own food and drink on board, though it was somewhat rare unless you had special needs.  Now, however, people are almost encouraged to bring their own provisions which create several new issues, not the least of which is trash.  The money that used to be spent providing those tiny bags of nuts or pretzels likely goes towards trash disposal.  The other byproduct is the cacophony of smells from all the different foods being brought on the plane.   If you have a sensitive stomach, are recovering from a hangover, or generally have sensitivity to certain smells, this can be particularly unpleasant.  As air is recycled through the plane, the smells can linger for quite some time.

On the positive side, I suppose this trend has generated higher demand and possibly profit for airport based restaurants – especially since you can’t bring any liquid beverages through security.   Which brings to mind the price of food and beverage items in the airport.  There are some airports, such as Portland, Oregon, where they businesses inside the airport cannot charge more for their items than they would charge at an off-airport location.  Others seem to have no such restrictions and the same bottle of water that you could buy at a convenience store (or off-airport equivalent of the same establishment) for a dollar will likely run you somewhere north of $3.00.  This is particularly annoying given the restriction on bringing such a basic item through security.

Would people really notice a $5 fare increase to cover the costs of a small beverage and a tiny bag of snacks?  They would certainly appreciate the return of such a basic service.

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Air Travel 101 – Baggage Etiquette

Air travel can be a challenge and airlines have not made it any easier in recent years. Instead of inventing ways to facilitate the process they seem to be complicating it.

Times are tough for everyone, so all the new fees for baggage, meals, and sometimes even beverages may make the airlines a few extra dollars but they also cause passengers to invent creative ways to circumvent these additional charges. This will be a series of articles on the trials and tribulations of airline travel, starting with one of my pet peeves – baggage.

With the advent of baggage fees, people now bring more items on board. It means the overhead bins are jammed to the gills. This causes a ripple effect that makes boarding and deplaning more time consuming and occasionally perilous when someone who can’t lift or hold their bag sends it crashing down on your head. (If you can’t lift it over your head – check it!)

I normally check a bag, despite the fees, to avoid the overhead battles, and also because I normally have a laptop case and it won’t fit under the seat unless you’re in a middle seat (which almost no one intentionally chooses). However, after being charged an obscene $150 for a third checked bag on a Continental international flight, I too am looking for ways to economize (I would be gone an extended period – I wasn’t just over packing). This is especially disheartening when I get to the gate only to have them announce free checked baggage as they look around and realize everyone’s carryon items will never fit in the overheads.

The message they are sending is if you follow the guidelines and check your bags up front, you will essentially be punished by a fee; therefore, try to bring everything on board, and chances are they’ll check it for free. People should not be penalized for trying to do the right thing.

There are signs and rules posted all over about not only carryon size limits, but the proper way to place a roller bag in the overhead, accompanied by verbal announcements by airline staff while boarding, but people either aren’t listening, can’t read, or are generally arrogant enough to believe these policies don’t apply to them.

Despite the written and verbal advice folks still put their roller bags in sideways, taking up twice the space they should; put more than one item in the overhead; or think their jacket should have a space of its own, even though each overhead bin is supposed to be shared by six to nine passengers. Because the space between seats has shrunk, people are reluctant to put anything at their feet, either. Unless you’re at or under 5’ tall, deep vein thrombosis is a real threat if you place an item under the seat in front of you where your legs would normally have their wiggle room.

It’s extremely rare when an airline employee enforces any of the size or quantity rules. Nearly every flight I’m on there is someone with a roller bag that would not fit in the metal sizing display they have at the gate, yet the only time I saw that rule enforced in the United States was briefly after 9/11; though I do see it occasionally overseas.

As my income shrinks, not unlike the airlines, I was recently “working the system” by trying to save the $70 second checked bag fee on an international flight (for a miniature 17” model suitcase), fully expecting to check it for free at the gate. Needless to say, I was shocked when confronted at the airport prior to entering the security line about having two carryons and a purse. I was able to shove my purse into one of the carryons, but was annoyed to see at least two other people with three items standing in the same security lines. It’s rare that I don’t’ see someone with three items boarding a plane – primarily business travelers, but also people who have purchased items inside the airport. If the rules are going to be enforced, they it should be across the board for everyone at every check point.

A little common sense, common courtesy, and common application of rules and policies would go a long way towards improving air travel and passenger satisfaction, and would likely make the jobs of the flight attendants easier, as well.

— Postscript

How can budget airline Southwest still continue to offer free checked bags?  There are a number of things I do not like about Southwest airlines, but they certainly know how to manage their finances better than the bigger airlines.  Instead of nickel and diming passengers to death, maybe the big airlines should take a closer look at how Southwest can offer free checked baggage and still turn a profit.

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Doesn’t it seem that just when you find a product you really like; the next thing you know it has been discontinued? Sometimes it’s something you’ve been using for years that mysteriously disappears from store shelves. Either way it can be frustrating re-starting the process of finding that ideal product, whether it’s your favorite pair of jeans, favorite food, favorite shade of lipstick, favorite perfume, or favorite shoes.

I can understand why companies would remove a relatively new product if sales don’t meet expectations, but when it’s a tried and true item that’s been around for years and is a popular seller, it’s not quite as easy to fathom.

Even when a product is successful, manufacturers can’t help but decide they know best and come out with an “improved” version at some point in time. Sometimes the new edition works, and other times, it doesn’t. Some of the most popular brand names have had to revert to their “classic” counterparts as the new and improved product just did not impress loyal customers.

Based on a recent internet search, my favorite New Balance walking shoes (trainers/sneakers) appear to have fallen on the chopping block. These weren’t an in-one-day-out-the-next phenomenon – I’ve lost track of the number of years I’ve been wearing this particular model. It was nice to just order a pair online without having to test drive them in the store. New shoes are difficult to buy without a trial run, at least for me. I need to try them on, walk around a little, make sure I can wear them more than five minutes without discomfort. Once I know a certain shoe fits well and is comfortable, I can order additional pairs online in other colors or new ones when they wear out, but the first time really requires in-person fitting. Some stores do offer free outbound and return shipping, but it can be extraordinarily time consuming trying to return something, especially if you aren’t quite sure what you want, or need to try several different styles, brands, or sizes.

It’s not just the hassle of finding a replacement product – sometimes the product disappears entirely. When this happens, it can take with it some very strong rooted memories. Take for instance the Wisconsin Candy Raisin. When NECCO bought Stark Candy Company in 2008 they discontinued this beloved treat. A huge uproar ensued including a grass roots effort to reinstate the confection by current and ex-Wisconsinites (myself included), to no avail. An entire sub-generation of baby boomers went into deep mourning at the loss of what can be likened to a childhood friend. From what I’ve read, the new company also refuses to divulge the recipe. How cruel is that? Even though one company decides it’s not economical to produce the product, why not sell the recipe to a niche company willing to do so if the demand exists? Are they afraid their decision might be proven wrong?

These merely represent a sampling of the disconnect between corporations and consumers.

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Are You Listening?

Maybe the question should be what are you listening to? So many people seem to be walking around these days wearing headphones (and Bluetooth headsets, which make them look like they’re candidates for the local padded room, wandering around talking to themselves, but that’s an entirely separate topic). This phenomenon does not appear to be purely generational – I’ve seen young and old alike, though the younger crowd does represent the majority.

Fortunately, few of them have their volume turned up to a point where outsiders can listen along. However, you do have to wonder if they can hear anything around them; you know, the car about to run them over and such. What are people trying to block out? Have we been under a barrage from so many information sources in our modern world that we must be constantly bombarding our senses?

I’m a great lover of music. It really can sooth the savagery of a difficult day; lift you to new heights; recall fond memories (or sad ones); and brighten just about any day. However, I don’t feel the need to have it piped into my senses all day every day.

There is a special music that comes from the land itself which can produce the same effect as your favorite tune. Whether it’s the hum of traffic or the squeak of a bicycle wheel, there is a cacophony of sounds available around us. No matter how bad your day may have gone, who doesn’t smile at the sound of a child’s laughter?

Nature supplies plenty of her own background music. The wind really does whistle and can blow a tune through the hollow pipes of a gate or guard rail. It can also rustle leaves on the ground and in the trees. Birds, engaged in conversation, can be as soothing as a whisper; though they can also be as annoying as an argument. Rushing water is one of my favorite sounds; waves lapping against the breakers or crashing on shore. I find it as comforting as any piece of my favorite music.

If you listen very closely, even the land emits a hum, reminding us there is life going on all around us. All these things are easily missed or overlooked if you’re constantly trying to block out the world. Try listening to the music of the land once in a while. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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To Tuck or Not to Tuck, That is the Question

Occasionally I see women on the street who have the tags from their shirts, blouses, or other clothing items sticking out. This seems to be primarily a woman’s issue, as I rarely, if ever, see it on a man. Women with short hair are more vulnerable to having their tags exposed, yet men typically have short hair and never seem to have this problem.

It must have to do with the way they make clothing for the different sexes; which of course makes me wonder why? Why would you make a shirt where the tag could stick up and out for all to see for a woman, but not a man?

There’s a new trend in women’s clothing, either aimed to avert this issue or as a money saving feature, whereby the information normally reserved for the tag is printed right onto the cloth itself. It’s not a trend I particularly care for. Tags can be snipped off when you want to disguise the fact that this particular item had to be purchased in an extra large instead of a large, or whatever particular size you’re trying to hide. There isn’t an easy way to remove the aforesaid markings printed directly onto the fabric.

My long hair generally hides these minor offenses, but when I do see a woman with a tag showing I often wonder whether to mention it or not. It’s easy if it’s someone I know – I would definitely tell them. But what about a total stranger? It can be awkward and embarrassing to find out you’ve been walking around all day with that little white flag flying freely for all to see. I think I would want to be told but would be interested in hearing from other women. Feel free to use the comment section to post your opinion – would you want to be told to tuck or not?

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